For the impoverished Brazilians whose favelas (slums) are within earshot of some of Brazil’s most wealthy neighbourhoods and most prestigious public locations, the Roger Waters concert dedicated to opposing the reactionary Presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro was clearly out of their price range. This is certainly not a criticism of Waters as all modern touring rock shows have many bills to pay. Given the size and technical sophistication of Waters’s current tour, it is reasonable to assume that Waters directly or indirectly employs more individuals than many medium sized businesses. The problem therefore is not that the tickets to Waters’s show were higher than that of any other major rock music tour. The problem is that Brazil’s wealth gap is so astronomical that the sample of public opinion at such a rock concert is clearly skewed to the right – at least in terms of economics.
Among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCDE) nations, Brazil has the second highest gap between the wealthy and the poor, beaten only by South Africa. The result is that the voices of the poor are often ignored as they remain confined to their slums while the national debate is predominately shaped by those with means. While this is an issue in many nations, in Brazil the problem is vastly more pronounced.
This schism is currently being played out in an election pitting the reactionary Jair Bolsonaro against Fernando Haddad, the man effectively standing in for the country’s most popular politician Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known affectionately as Lula) who remains in prison due to corruption charges that are globally acknowledged as totally political rather than just or transparent. In the first round of voting conducted on 7 October, Bolsonaro won 46% of the vote while the runner up Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party will now face Bolsonaro in the second round to determine who will be the next Brazilian President on the 28th of October
While Lula’s Workers’ Party spent much of the campaign season protested the imprisonment of their leader, Bolsonaro actively campaigned throughout Brazil. According to Jair Bolsonaro’s own words, he is an advocate of Brazil’s military regime which ran the country between 1965 and 1985. A vote for Bolsonaro is therefore a vote to endorse a slide back towards military rule and what’s more is that Bolsonaro does little to hide his disdain for modern politics, civic democracy and civilian rule. A vote for Bolsonaro is quite frankly a vote against democracy and a vote for a return to the military dictatorships that ruled multiple Latin American nations from the 1960s through to the 80s. Bolsonaro knows this, the military knows this, the United States knows this and it seems only the journalists falsely calling Bolsonaro a populist fail to grasp this incredibly overt reality.
While Bolsonaro’s rhetoric is often flamboyant and apparently controversial by design, his retrograde policies of taking the civilian government back under the wing of the military along with reinstating all of the 1970s style far-right positions that dominated much of Latin America in the second half of the 20th century, is neither progressive populism nor right wing populism, it is merely unabashed far-right reactionary politics in its most unadulterated form.
By contrast, Lula offers Brazil progressive populism which advocates for better wages and rights for workers, assisted relief to the country’s poor, a platform of closing Brazil’s wealth gap – one of the most staggering in the world as well as policies to protect Brazil’s fragile but beautiful ecosystems. The trouble is that as Lula is in prison, these policies that remain popular among the populace were deprived of having their best representative advocate for them during the election.
Because judicial corruption literally stole Brazil’s forward looking populist candidate from the people, all that was left was a Haddad campaign that did not even have time to establish itself prior to the first round of votes. All the while a vocal, boisterous Bolsonaro campaign advocated a far-right turn back to the past that did more to stoke apathy than inspire any high minded political ideals.
While some are predicting that Bolsonaro’s momentum will carry him through to the next round, Fernando Haddad now has an opportunity to re-start his campaign and argue for Lula’s positions in an age where Brazil’s true populist is a political prisoner of a corrupt state that a Bolsonaro government would only make worse. The future of Brazil is on knife edge, the choice facing voters is now one between a populist future and a reactionary past.
As Roger Waters will be touring Brazil as part of his Us + Them world tour throughout the run-up and aftermath of the election, his highly political performances have already sparked much debate in Brazil. At his recent concert in São Paulo, Waters told his audience that his voice is one raised against what he called “the resurgence of fascism” before he proceeded to indict Bolsonaro as someone whose views in favour of Brazil’s erstwhile military dictatorship are dangerous to the freedom and justice in Brazil.
Waters’s statement on the matter was as follows,
“You do have a very important election coming up in three weeks’ time. So at some point you are going to have to decide who you want your next president to be. I know it’s none of my business – except that, by and large, I am against the resurgence of fascism all over the world and as a believer in human rights – and that includes the right to peaceful protest under the law – I would prefer not to live under the rules of someone who believes military dictatorship is a good thing. I remember the bad old days in South America – with the juntas of the military dictatorships – and it was ugly”.
Throughout his performance, Waters also had the phrase Ele Não (Not Him) projected on the screen behind him. Ele Não has become a trending hashtag on Brazilian social media among those opposed to Bolsonaro. Waters also made his feelings known when he presented Bolsonaro’s name on a list of other globally famous politicians whom Waters deemed to be neo-fascists.
This is not the first time Waters has taken aim at reactionary politics in Latin America. In his song ‘The Fletcher Memorial Home’ from the 1983 Pink Floyd album The Final Cut, Waters derided the followers of far-right Latin American politics as “a group of anonymous Latin-American meat packing glitterati”. On that same album, Waters took aim at Argentina’s military dictator Leopoldo Galtieri as well as his right-wing/neo-liberal British rival Margaret Thatcher.
The reaction from the sold out football stadium crowd was decidedly mixed as some members of the audience who support Bolsonaro booed, hissed and shouted expletives at the stage as Waters lashed out at the man that many are calling one of Latin America’s most far-right mainstream politicians since Chile’s Augusto Pinochet.
This reception was quite unlike the warm one he received in Russia where Waters spoke out in favour of the national self-determination of the people of Palestine, Syria and Crimea. The reality is that while the progressive populist Lula remains more popular throughout Brazil than the reactionary Bolsonaro. the inability of Lula’s party to organise a normal campaign has played into the hands of Bolsonaro. Furthermore, Brazil’s economic inequality meant that while a majority of Brazilians may well have agreed with Roger Waters, those in an economic position to afford concert tickets were at least in some part the progeny of the anonymous Latin-American meat packing glitterati that Waters denounced in 1983.